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F1 Winter Break 2012/13 – Key Dates

30 Nov

The 2012 season may be over, and the 2013 season still months away, but the next few months won’t be completely quiet. December in particular sees a number of activities going on to close down the 2012 season. I’ve pulled together the dates that have been announced so far for anyone who wants a handy reference for when we may get even the smallest F1 fix or titbit of news. I will update this when additional events and their dates are announced.

December 2012

2nd – 21.30 GMT – Autosport Awards, London. Sadly not being streamed live online this year but you can follow a live text feed on the Autosport website.

7thFIA Prize-Giving Gala, Istanbul, Turkey. The event will be streamed live here at 22:00 GMT.

8thSwatch Snowmobile Race, Saalbach, Austria. Kimi Raikkonen is racing again this year. The event is broadcast live on Motors TV at 19:00-21:15 (internet stream on their website, or on Sky TV 413/Virgin Media 545).

14th Race of Champions Asia, Bangkok, Thailand. F1 drivers Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok are confirmed to be participating. It isn’t currently in the UK TV listings.

15th – 16thRace of Champions, Bangkok Thailand. F1 drivers Sebastian Vettel, Michael Schumacher, Romain Grosjean and David Coulthard are confirmed to be participating. The event will be broadcast on Motors TV at 13:00-16:00 GMT each day (internet stream on their website, or on Sky TV 413/Virgin Media 545).

Mid-December – expect driver line-up announcements from Lotus and Force India.

January 2013

7th – Release of the 2012 Season Review DVD/Blu-ray.

18th – 11.30am GMT – Sid Watkins Memorial Service, Marylebone, London.

February/March 2013

5th – 8th – First Pre-Season Winter Test, Jerez, Spain.

19th – 22nd – Second Pre-Season Winter Test, Barcelona, Spain.

28th Feb – 3rd Mar – Third Pre-Season Winter Test, Barcelona, Spain.

Passing the Baton – Germany’s F1 drivers

27 Nov

The fall of the chequered flag in Interlagos yesterday saw the passing from one era of German F1 history to another. The legendary seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher retired from the sport for the second and final time, while his young friend Sebastian Vettel claimed his third WDC title in as many years, making him the youngest triple world champion in the sport’s history. There are few who doubt that Vettel will win more titles, and many now wonder if he can beat his childhood hero’s WDC record. Vettel’s achievements in 2012 certainly make him a worthy recipient of the ‘German motor sport hero’ baton.

A successor is anointed – Michael Schumacher congratulates Sebastian Vettel on his 3rd WDC title, as the 7-times champion retires for good.

With Vettel now moving up to ‘top dog’, I have been pondering who should or can succeed him as Germany’s next big hope. Germany currently (although the UK will equal their number if Max Chilton does race for Marussia in 2013) has more F1 drivers than any other country, so in theory should be well positioned to have another up and coming star, but who deserves the mantle?

Timo Glock is the eldest of the four German drivers on the grid, but while he is a great guy (and another of my favourite drivers), he is stuck at the back end of the grid in a Marussia. The team are improving, but it is highly unlikely we’ll be seeing him on the podium any time soon. Timo’s new role will essentially be the elder statesman of the German camp in F1. He is good friends with Sebastian Vettel and is another useful wing man for the new leading light.

Within F1 this leaves the two Nico’s: Messrs Rosberg and Hulkenberg. Both have potential, but which, if either of them, will be great?

Nico Rosberg

Nico R is the most experienced of the German drivers on the grid. He has now completed seven full seasons in Formula 1; four with Williams, and three with Mercedes. During that time Nico has been on the podium seven times, taken one pole position and one race victory. His pole and race victory finally came this year in Shanghai, and many commentators at the time talked of him finally being able to “shake the monkey from his back”. Since then, the performance of his car has been less than impressive so he has been unable to repeat these successes.

Victory at last – Rosberg wins in China, 2012

Nico’s biggest achievement to date has to be his ability, at times, to race on a par with, or better than, Michael Schumacher in his second F1 career. His biggest test is yet to come though. His new team mate will be keen to stamp his authority all over the Mercedes team, and despite having been promised equal treatment, Nico will need to prove he can race as hard as Lewis Hamilton. Few are expecting much of the 2013 Mercedes car, but 2014 is cited as being their big opportunity.

Nico Hulkenberg

Nico R has the least experience of the German drivers. He has been racing in F1 for only two seasons; one with Williams and one with Force India with a season as Force India’s reserve driver in between. He is the same age as Sebastian Vettel.

Although he is yet to step on to the F1 podium, Nico has already bagged a pole position at Brazil in 2010, and led part of the 2012 Brazil race (Interlagos must be his lucky track). During 2012 he has out-performed Paul Di Resta and made a good enough impression on Sauber’s management to secure a drive with them for 2013.

The Hulk makes his mark in Interlagos, Brazil 2012

Nico Hulkenberg has made a few mistakes along the way like any young driver, but he seems to have an edginess and energy about him which Nico Rosberg perhaps lacks. His move to Sauber is a great opportunity, and with a rookie team mate he will be in a strong position to drive the team forward as the more experienced driver. I’d be very surprised if he isn’t on the podium in 2013.

Both Nico’s have an opportunity to step further in to the German limelight, but which will it be, if either? Does Germany need to wait longer for its next star?

The only German in GP2/GP3 at the moment is Daniel Abt, who finished second in the GP3 series in 2012. He is just 19 years of age, but has Red Bull sponsorship and is recognised within Germany as a future star. The next few years will be key for Abt.

Penalty Fair?

2 Sep

The annual Grand Prix at Spa rarely disappoints when it comes to providing drama. Despite an amazing pole to flag drive from Jenson Button, this year’s race will be remembered for the dramatic first race crash and other controversies which resulted in penalties being handed out.

Cars fly at Turn 1 in Spa.

 

Penalties are always a massive talking point throughout an F1 season, particularly when one driver is making regular visits to the FIA stewards, or when a series of similar incidents occur and the punishments handed out are inconsistent.

Cause and Effect

Today’s incident at the start of the race which caused a terrifying crash resulted in Romain Grosjean being handed a 1 race ban by the FIA and a 50,000 Euro fine. This was not Grosjean’s first incident at the start of a race (for example, he was involved in a dramatic start to this year’s Monaco Grand Prix) and it resulted in the scariest incident we’ve seen in a while.

The replay of the start showed Grosjean making a quick start and then moving over to the right, which squeezed Hamilton who did not veer outside of the white line to avoid contact. If you take this part of the incident in isolation then it is quite similar to other incidents we have seen this year, but the impact was so much greater because the whole of the pack were bunched together so closely at the start, while also braking to go round turn 1. If the two had come together like this later in the race and nobody else had been affected, chances are it would’ve just resulted in a grid-drop for Grosjean.  It can be difficult to differentiate between the two scenarios, but ultimately drivers need to take extra care at the start of the race.  Grosjean described the incident as a “small mistake with big consequences” and has apologised to the other drivers involved (and their fans). I’ve seen some emotional comments on twitter attacking Grosjean’s words, but I suspect he would have learned from this incident with or without the ban for the next race. I’m not saying that he shouldn’t receive it, but I’d be gob-smacked if the gravity of the situation and good fortune that nobody was seriously hurt  doesn’t have a deeper impact on him than a race ban. We saw in October 2011 the devastating consequences that a small coming together between two cars can have on a race track when there is traffic ahead. Wade Cunningham and JR Hildebrand came together at the Las Vegas Speedway which sent cars in front airborne, resulting in the tragic loss of Dan Wheldon.

The role of the FIA

The inconsistency of penalties from the FIA is one of the most controversial issues in motor racing. The inconsistency applies not only within Formula 1, but also across the feeder series of GP2, GP3 and World Series Renault where young drivers (like Grosjean) usually graduate from prior to their F1 careers. Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari’s team boss called for a higher standard of driving to be required in these lower series: “In my view, the most important thing is looking at the behaviour of drivers. It has to start in the championships before Formula 1. You see it too often in the other series that drivers are very aggressive and try to do something almost over what it is possible to do, so it is important to be very strict since they start racing and then they will arrive in F1 in a better condition for that”. Others, including GP2 and GP3 world commentator Will Buxton have supported this view. We shall have to see if Jean Todt pays attention to this call for action from his former team.

The most irritating thing from the FIA today was one of the reasons given on their official notice confirming Grosjean’s penalty: “It eliminated leading championship contenders from the race”.

The FIA official notice confirming Grosjean’s penalty

This sentence is simply infuriating. It shouldn’t matter who is affected by the incident or their position in the championship standings. All drivers must have an equal standing in such incidents whether they drive a Ferrari or an HRT.

What next?

F1 moves to Monza in just a few days, and it is not yet known who will drive the second Lotus car. In theory it should be Jerome D’Ambrosio, the team’s official reserve driver, but there is already speculation that Jaime Alguersuari could be called upon given his experience this year as Pirelli’s test driver. I would be delighted to see either driver race next weekend. This is likely to be the main talking point for the next few days until Lotus confirm the driver line-up.

Will the FIA act on Domenicali’s call for new standards? The organisation has a reputation for changing regulations on a whim to hush the cries of teams crying foul about technical details, or to stall the progress of an exceptional team/driver. They are not so smart at responding to lucky escapes. I hope the F1 paddock will not let them ignore the issues which emerged today, and that we will see a sensible, FAIR, crack down on dangerous driving throughout all the racing formula which they control.

 

 

Red Bull – Living on the Edge

26 Jul

So here we are, in the middle of the season and once again Red Bull have been making the headlines for what many consider to be all the wrong reasons.

The German Grand Prix was not a great weekend for the team; the mapping issue, the passing and penalty issue, Mark’s struggles, and some perhaps unfortunate comments that the press and the F1 community on twitter are devouring like a pack of rabid hyenas.

I don’t agree with many of the comments made by Dr Helmut Marko, I don’t always agree with Christian or Sebastian (yes I do think he should have given that place back and passed later). Their comments in interviews do sometimes let them down. The creative genius of Adrian Newey however, does not and it complements the ethos of the team and the brand.

I don’t need to write a paragraph waxing lyrical about Adrian and what he has achieved in Formula 1, you already know all that. What I will do though, is highlight one of the things that Adrian has in buckets; creative genius. He thinks outside the box and will push things further to the limit than his counterparts at the other eleven F1 teams and it pays off every time. Everybody is looking for that extra edge, and Adrian knows how to get it. Does he live within ‘the spirit of the rules’? I think so, but again he will push that spirit to the limit to get the most out of the car. Unfortunately for the team, the rest of the paddock don’t agree, and the FIA will respond to a sufficiently loud level of whining by rewriting the rules. In F1 rules aren’t made to be broken; they are made to be rewritten.

Many F1 fans have described Red Bull as cheaters. They aren’t cheating. Ordering a driver to crash to affect the outcome of a race, or photocopying documents from another team is cheating.

Red Bull, not just the F1 team but the whole company, lives life on the edge and pushes to the limit. While the F1 paddock has been grumbling all week about engine mappings and passing manoeuvres, another Red Bull venture, Red Bull Stratos, was completing a second test flight before Felix Baumgartner does a jump from the edge of space back down to earth. This is an incredible project and I can’t wait to see coverage of the actual jump.

Red Bull Stratos

 

I may not be too keen on the drink itself, but I love the ethos of the brand, the events and athletes that they sponsor, and the F1 team’s creativity and skill at pushing the rules and convention to the limit complements that ethos perfectly. I suspect that the majority of the people who read this have pushed rules to the limit in their own lives – driving right on the speed limit, going through an orange light just before it changes to red, trying to outsmart our parents and the rules they imposed on us when we were kids….the list goes on.

When any team uncovers a new feature which pushes the limits it is easy to point the finger if we support a different team, and cry foul. We want our boys to win. It is easy for me to write this because I love Red Bull, but if like me you drive on the limit, or tried to be a smartass when you were a kid, join me next time the rules get rewritten in a wry smile and a tip of your F1 hat to acknowledge that same creativity in the sport we all love.

Sky Sports F1 – The verdict so far

26 Jun

Before the start of the season I wrote an article on the high hopes that I had for Sky Sports F1, and now that we’re eight races in to the season I’m going to offer up my verdict on how they are doing so far. This article won’t be a comparison of BBC versus Sky; firstly I don’t see that as a constructive exercise, but mainly because I have hardly watched BBC coverage this season so it wouldn’t be balanced.

The Team

The core presenting team of Simon Lazenby, Martin Brundle, David Croft, Ted Kravitz, Natalie Pinkham, Georgie Thompson and Anthony Davidson are all performing their respective roles as well as I anticipated, but my stand-out favourite has to be Ted. I’ve always liked his enthusiasm for the technical side of F1, but it has really notched up several gears now he is working for Sky. The graphics, the sky pad and the cars in the studio on the F1 show make him look as happy as a kid in a sweet shop and it is great to watch.

The Sky F1 team in action (picture via Daily Mail)

The pundits who join the team for some of the races really add to the dynamic on race weekends, and Johnny Herbert is definitely my favourite. His cheeky humour and the expertise he brings as one of the driver stewards are a great addition. I know a lot of others didn’t like Jacques Villeneuve on the Canadian GP coverage but I enjoyed his input too as he is so honest. This is the weaker point of the other regular pundit, Damon Hill. He doesn’t tell it as straight as Johnny, and his flip-flopping on the Bahrain political issues weakened his credibility. Karun Chandhok took to presenting on the Sky Pad with Georgie like a duck to water and I really hope that Sky bring him back in for more races (and not just while Ant recovers from his spinal fracture).

The strongest moment for me for the whole team was the Bahrain weekend. The tone of the programme changed perfectly, with a fair assessment of the troubles in the Gulf state and the effect it had on Force India personnel and others. The light-heartedness of a normal weekend e.g. the F1 Buzz Game just wouldn’t have been appropriate there and it didn’t happen.

My only small criticism would be the openness with which some of the presenters show their allegiances to certain drivers. The worst offender is probably Martin Brundle with regards to Lewis Hamilton. I am biased here because I am anything but a fan of Lewis, but I would prefer him to show more neutrality. Alan McNish wasn’t exactly neutral either.

The presenter who has come in for most criticism from the press has been Simon Lazenby due to a couple of unfortunate incidents; the Grace Kelly reference in Monaco, and his reported conduct on the flight home from Valencia. This criticism for me has been too harsh. We all make inappropriate jokes and comments at times, myself included, and who hasn’t acted inappropriately when they’ve got a few drinks inside them? I think Simon does a great job and I hope these incidents don’t jeopardise his role on the team.

The coverage itself

Sky’s coverage of race weekends is definitely comprehensive, and on the whole runs for the right amount of time. The pre-qualifying and pre-race build up runs for the right amount of time, and the post-qualifying and post-race coverage runs for a good amount of time although I think they could easily fill at least another half hour. With a dedicated channel at their disposal it would be good for them to stay on air as long as possible while there is still stuff to say and F1 folk to talk to. I might just be being greedy there though!

The number of advert breaks in the coverage was always going to be a high-profile feature of the coverage, and I like the timing of the advert breaks. Given the length of the coverage it is actually quite handy to have a few breaks for us viewers to do our own refuelling and pit-stops without having to pause it and miss anything (shudders at the thought). My only irk with the advert breaks is the regular opportunities they provide (after the break) for the presenting team to remind us yet again of the ways that we can access Sky’s coverage and that it is broadcast in 5.1 digital. WE KNOW!!!

Another thing annoying me is some of the editing. Monaco was particularly bad. Within about half an hour we saw the same excerpt of Georgie’s interview with Heikki Kovalainen three times. This was pretty poor, but thankfully isn’t a regular occurrence. The other thing is that Sky don’t always cut to the post-quali or post-race drivers’ press conference as soon as they could. I think it was Canada when they were interviewing Christian Horner in the pits and you could hear the press conference being broadcast around the track. I appreciate that live interviews can be difficult to secure, but the press conference is a key part of both quali and the race and I’d like to see it take precedence over anything else. I’ve seen tweets from fans watching other broadcasters around the world who have been ahead on the press conference and it has spoilt it a bit.

The two reports on McLaren show-runs, just weeks apart, showed a slight lack of imagination but show-runs are a really important connection between F1 and its fans so I am willing to overlook this.

The F1 show is a really good addition to the schedule. With so much news on a race weekend it allows that extra degree of coverage, and the shows in non-race weeks are great for further post-race analysis and an F1 fix between races.

I also really like the Thursday and Friday press conferences being broadcast on the channel.

Team Coverage

In my previous article about Sky I said that the amount of coverage they gave to teams in the mid-field and back of the grid was a crucial factor for me. I think so far I can say this is “not bad but could do better”. There is still a tendency to focus on the big teams. It was always inevitable (sadly so for me) that McLaren would dominate this, but rather than just being a McLaren and Red Bull love-in as we saw in recent years on the BBC, there’s a pretty good balance beyond the McLaren priority, across Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus. I’d still like to see more of the mid-field and back of the grid teams. Sauber and Williams are inevitably getting the best coverage in the mid-field because of their strong performances so far this season.

I can understand that McLaren is considered to be *the* British team, but I think it is important for the British broadcasters to consider that two-thirds of the teams are based in the UK. I am located equidistant between Red Bull in Milton Keynes and Caterham F1 while they are based in Hingham in Norfolk. The majority of their personnel are British, and their foreign ownership shouldn’t affect the amount of coverage they get. You only need to watch BBC Look East to see how proud our region is of Red Bull and Caterham, both of whom get regular coverage on the local news. More coverage could also be given to Paul Di Resta – he is just as British as Jenson and Lewis and I am sure will be a force to be reckoned with in the next few years. When it comes to forming allegiances to drivers and teams I am swayed by skill and personality rather than a blind allegiance borne from shared nationality, and I am definitely not alone in that amongst F1 fans. Thankfully for me Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Heikki Kovalainen all get a reasonable amount of coverage from Sky, but those who support others like Vitaly Petrov or Daniel Ricciardo will be waiting rather impatiently for decent coverage of their heroes. Please, Sky, give fans the chance to warm to other drivers.

Verdict?

Taking on coverage of a global sport like F1 is no mean feat, and I think Sky are settling in to F1 really well. The niggles I’ve mentioned here are all pretty small and it is definitely a good sign that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the coverage. I am sure it will only get better as time goes on. I’ll give Sky a 7/10.

Fans who have access to Sky, but have opposed watching their coverage on principle, really ought to give it a try. From what I’ve seen so far I can safely say that they will like it.

Who will ‘Lady Luck’ favour in Monaco?

24 May

It’s hard to believe it is a year since that dramatic race weekend on the streets of Monte Carlo in 2011, but the Formula 1 paddock has sailed back in to the principality for another spin of the roulette wheel.

Last year brought misfortune for a number of drivers, notably Sergio Perez with his massive crash during qualifying, while both Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado clashed with a frustrated Lewis Hamilton. Vitaly Petrov’s misfortune brought good fortune to Sebastian Vettel through the red flag his accident caused and the ‘free pass’ tyre change it gifted Seb and the other drivers on the grid.

Lady luck was certainly smiling on Sebastian Vettel in 2011 but who will she favour this year?

After 5 races with 5 different winning drivers and teams, many seem to believe that stretching this pattern to a sixth race would be a safe bet. If this is the case, Lotus and either Kimi Raïkonnën or Romain Grosjean could win big on Sunday. After Pastor Maldonado’s surprise victory for Williams in Spain many in the mid-field may now also be dreaming big and hoping their chance of a podium will come.

The other drivers in the thus-far successful teams will also be hoping their time has come – Mark Webber, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton are hungry for victory. Felipe Massa seems to have no answer to Alonso’s ability to squeeze everything out of the F2012, and Bruno Senna will desperately want to prove he is a match for his previously underestimated team-mate. Where better to do so than at the track his uncle excelled at?

With his 5 place grid-drop, the odds aren’t in Michael Schumacher’s favour and he appeared to be struggling with the tyres in the practice sessions today. After such poor luck so far this season I really hope good fortune comes his way.

Felipe Massa is undoubtedly more in need of luck than anyone else on the grid. The vultures are circling and the rumour mill is in overdrive. I really hope he can score some more points this weekend and keep the wolves away from his door but it may only be delaying the inevitable. Outpacing his team-mate today in FP2 may bring some minor consolation but with a decision on his future at Ferrari likely to be made in the next month, it could well be a make or break weekend for the Brazilian.

After only limited running in FP2 today due to the weather, it is still difficult to gauge exactly how the odds stack for each team and driver. As always we will only know for sure when each of the players shows their hand in qualifying on Saturday. Lotus, Grosjean in particular, appear to be favourites amongst the pundits, followed by McLaren. The weather may well determine the outcome with more showers forecast. Whatever happens though, this weekend promises to be an absolute cracker.

F1 Merchandising – Have The Teams Got It Right?

19 May

Like fans of any other sport, Formula 1 fans want to get their hands on official merchandising of the teams they support. Before the start of the season I decided to look at what teams released and when so that I could write about it here. I’ve never previously taken a look across all the teams in this way, and what I found surprised me to the extent that I questioned whether or not the teams in one of the most commercial sports in the world have got it right.

Timing of merchandise release

We’re now past race weekend 5 of 20 – a quarter of the way through the 2012 F1 season, and some teams have still not released their merchandising collections online through their websites. Those still in that category are Williams F1, Sahara Force India and HRT. The majority of teams had their merchandise available by the Malaysian race, although Mercedes (whom I was very impatiently waiting for) didn’t release theirs until mid-April.

With merchandising changing from one season to the next, the late timing of the releases does not represent good value for money for fans; F1 merchandising (like most sports) is not cheap. Why is it so late in some cases? It is hard to say for sure in each individual case, but waiting until sponsorship deals have been sealed can put production of the merchandising on hold. It is inevitable for the team that the income from the pending sponsor(s) will be worth more to the team than income from merchandising.

The contrast in timing of release of official F1 team ‘kit’ for supporters with football teams is striking. The 2011/12 football season is barely over, but the kit for 2012/13 season for many teams is either already available to buy or can at least be pre-ordered. Even those teams awaiting sponsorship deals to be agreed (or branding changes) are likely to release their kit in July, still ahead of the start of the season.

Price Comparison

The price of merchandising across F1 teams varies significantly. I took a look at the cost of a team replica ladies shirt for each team who has released merchandising to date. Replica kit is always more expensive than other ranges offered by teams so it should be noted that there are cheaper alternatives available. Here are the prices, in descending order:

Caterham £60

Mercedes £58.50

Lotus £53

Sauber (unisex) £52 (Conversion based on current £/€ exchange rate)

Red Bull £44.19 (Conversion based on current £/€ exchange rate)

Marussia £39.99

McLaren £39.95

Toro Rosso – no official shirt

Ferrari – not available online

This list shows a significant range in price across the teams. The McLaren shirt is a relative bargain(!) for one of the ‘big teams’ but is a t-shirt rather than a polo or shirt. By contrast the prices of the Mercedes and Caterham shirts are somewhat eyewatering.

Gender balance

Being a female F1 fan, I was particularly interested by the merchandising available to women. It was striking, and disappointing, that some teams only sell a fraction of items to women compared to the menswear range. If my twitter feed (@schuvettelainen) is anything to go by, the gender balance amongst F1 fans is pretty equal. Shots of the grandstands on race weekends also support this – there are always plenty of women at races.

Red Bull, Lotus, Marussia and McLaren all have full ranges for women, while Sauber’s official team line is unisex.  By comparison, Mercedes has 2 items (plus  a unisex jacket) for women compared to 11 for men.

Even more depressing is that some teams don’t even have menu filters for women on some parts of their website. The Ferrari store has a women’s section in their general range, but in the Scuderia section containing the F1 merchandise there are filters for men and kids, but not for women. It is possible to buy Ferrari women’s clothing in shops but it is really odd that it isn’t available online. (Interestingly in the Ferrari Scuderia section there is a filter for Fernando Alonso, but not for Felipe Massa – there is Felipe gear on there, but you have to trawl through everything to find it).

The Scuderia section of Ferrari’s online shop

Caterham have women’s team replica kit, but not a lifestyle range. I contacted their e-shop to ask why this was, and I was assured that the items are on their way (and that Caterham value their female fans as much as their male fans), but if they are able to produce men’s lifestyle products from the start, why not women’s?

The Caterham e-shop. See menu on left hand side.

With some teams having full lines for their female fans it seems that some recognise that women are massive F1 fans too, but others apparently haven’t got it right and have some way to go to catch up.

Accessories and other items

One thing all teams are good at is producing accessories and other assorted items. Here’s a selection of what is out there.

Red Bull have a massive range of items:

Seb Jigsaw (£10.41), Bandana (£9.61) and RB7 nosecone (£80,38) from the Red Bull Racing Shop

Mugs and USB sticks are a popular choice with teams. McLaren and Lotus have the nicest, although the Lotus USB is frankly extortionate.

Lotus USB stick (£40), Lotus mug (£14) and McLaren Tea-Lemetery Mug (£9.95)

Belts and notebooks are also popular choices. I like these ones from Caterham F1:

Caterham Belt (£24) and Leather Notebook (£18)

Have the teams got it right?

In some cases it seems the teams are spot on – a good choice for all, while others seem to have got it wrong (from a fan’s perspective) in terms of timing and/or gender inequality. I don’t know how teams plan their merchandising ranges, but they don’t seem to be drawing on consistent data. It will be interesting to see what the remaining teams offer when their collections are released.

Reflections on a week of controversy

22 Apr

A week after F1 started arriving in the Gulf state of Bahrain, the race has been decided and the teams are packing up and leaving. The race was an absolute cracker, but it has been completely overshadowed by the political storm created by the decision to proceed with the race. Nobody could be sure how the week would pan out, and many will be breathing a sigh of relief that there were no major events which directly affected the F1 paddock.

As I wrote in a previous article, the most controversial Grand Prix week  for many years began with the arrival of some of the F1 journalists: Kevin Eason, Ian Parkes and Byron Young. They decided to go and investigate the situation in Bahrain for themselves (provoking both praise and criticism from many quarters) and began reporting that things were not quite as the F1 paddock had been led to believe by the FIA in whom they had placed their trust. Meanwhile, most of their colleagues, and non-set-up paddock folks were passing the time in the UAE before travelling to Bahrain at the last moment. By the time everyone turned up on Wednesday/Thursday events in Bahrain were starting to make the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

So what has been the effect of Formula 1’s decision to race in Bahrain? These are my thoughts.

The effect on Formula 1

As a fan it has been incredibly frustrating in the build up to this race seeing the team principals and drivers, whom I mostly have a lot of respect for, having to uncomfortably skirt round questions about Bahrain or stick to what I’d frankly term as “PR bullshit”. As much as I would have liked to have seen them speak out, they have rarely strayed off the party line. It is understandable why they stuck to the line that they had placed their trust in the FIA – if all was well then there’d have been no problem, but having seen the effect that the week has had on Force India, and the reports that all was not as they had been led to believe, it ensured the flack was placed well and truly at the doors of the FIA and FOM boss Bernie Ecclestone.

Bernie Ecclestone is renowned for seeing all publicity as good publicity, and has a pretty hefty teflon coating on him but has the controversy of this race managed to stick to the diminutive puppet-master of F1 and left egg on the face of the FIA? Ross Brawn, team principal of Mercedes AMG F1 has called for F1 to reflect on the week and I expect that there will be some difficult questions being asked behind closed doors at FIA HQ on the Place de la Concorde. Given the scale of the PR disaster facing F1 they may want to consider an away-day in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles to reflect. I fear it is inevitable though that nothing will change; there is a moral vacuum at the top of a world driven by money, with those underneath it gagged by commercial pressure and the lure of championship points.

It is only a few hours since the 2012 Bahrain race finished but I am already anticipating that we will be facing further months of controversy when the provisional and final race calendars for 2013 are published.

The results of the Bahrain Grand Prix will stay in my mind for the rest of the season. It is likely to be a tight championship where every point could affect the eventual standings. If the results of Bahrain determine who comes out on top, their glory will be tainted by the controversy of this weekend.

The effect on Bahrain

After months of being overshadowed by events in Syria and Libya, the spotlight has been well and truly back on Bahrain. Protesters have had a huge amount of media coverage, reminding the rest of the world that there are still significant issues in the country. The race was an opportunity to step up the ongoing protests and the plight of a well-respected activist on hunger-strike and the tragic death of a protester on Friday have reignited interest in the country. It remains to be seen if the protests will continue on this scale, and how the authorities will respond after F1 has left the country. The sadly almost inevitable death of hunger-striker Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, whenever it comes, will undoubtedly increase tension, and if the authorities respond with a hard crack-down, the situation could spiral out of control.

It is my sincerest hope that the world media will continue to watch events in Bahrain closely and keep their story in the spotlight. As someone with a strong interest in world news and the Middle East I will be continuing to follow the situation in Bahrain. I hope that other F1 fans won’t forget what we’ve witnessed in the last few days.

“Our Men in Bahrain”

16 Apr

After a thrilling race in Shanghai, the F1 paddock is currently making its way to Bahrain ready for the race due to take place this weekend. Some have gone straight to Bahrain, while others are biding time in the UAE or elsewhere. Amongst those who’ve gone straight to Bahrain are some of the F1 press corps.

The debate about the Bahrain Grand Prix has been simmering ever since the race was confirmed on the 2012 calendar, but the eyes of the world have been focussed on other areas of the MENA region since the uprisings last spring with little attention being paid to events in Bahrain. In recent weeks as the race weekend approaches, the question about whether F1 should return there has inevitably been making headline news.

As we’re all aware, the authorities in Bahrain are telling the world all is well in the country and that the race will unify the country, while blaming the foreign press for overstating the ongoing tensions there. This isn’t surprising; it goes against the very essence of the UNIF1ED promotional campaign for the Grand Prix which was intended to tell the world that the race is a good thing for the country.

It is also worth noting that press outlets in Bahrain are either owned by the government or closely linked to it; opposition press is pretty scant. It is relatively easy to convince those in the city that there are just a few skirmishes happening in villages when the streets of Manama are quiet. Having this much media scrutiny which they can’t influence will be making many in the halls of power in Manama extremely uncomfortable. To refuse visas to journalists arriving for the Grand Prix would be a guaranteed PR disaster, so they need to take their chances and let them in.

From what I have seen and heard recently about life in Bahrain, it strikes me that the authorities in Bahrain have been naive about their ability to convince the world that all is well, and up until this week it has been a bit of a case of ‘he said, she said’ between their PR machine and the western media. This week, we can find out once and for all how things really are through the eyes and ears of those members of the F1 press corps who are already on the ground in Bahrain. Other sections of the media are also watching the situation closely.

While perusing my twitter timeline this afternoon I was fascinated by updates appearing from two journalists, Byron Young (The Mirror – @byronf1) and Ian Parkes (Press Association – @ianparkesf1), who had gone to the village of Salmabad to observe the final day of mourning for a local cameraman who had been shot and killed on Friday. They tweeted what they saw as it happened, including a number of pictures. Tensions were high and resulted in a clash between the police and protesters. I can highly recommend reading their tweets from this afternoon.

Other journalists besides Byron and Ian are in Bahrain, including Kevin Eason (The Times – @easonf1). Kevin has been one of the most outspoken F1 journalists about the way in which FOM and the FIA have handled the decision about Bahrain, and you may have seen his piece over the weekend criticising Jean Todt. Kevin was first man at the Bahrain circuit today, and his first piece from Bahrain will be in the Times tomorrow which I’m sure will be another good read (note: I am in no way affiliated with News International….or related to Kevin…).

Every journalist from every news outlet will have their own slant on a situation, and so it is always worth reading across the spectrum to get a balanced view. Other journalists/news outlets worth following (some in Bahrain and some not) this week for some different perspectives are:

Gary Meenaghan – @GMeenaghan (Sports Writer for The National, Abu Dhabi – the main non-gov’t newspaper in the UAE).

Will Buxton – @willbuxton (Speed Channel. Will was in Bahrain in February last year).

Frank Gardner – @FrankRGardner (BBC Security Correspondent & Middle East expert – Frank isn’t in Bahrain but has been reporting on the Bahrain Grand Prix for the BBC for the last week or so).

Aljazeera – @AJEnglish (Arabic news channel based in Qatar – this is their English news feed. Aljazeera tends to be associated in our minds with videos of hostages or messages from Bin Laden, but they are a good source for Middle Eastern news so don’t be put off!!).

The situation in Bahrain is likely to get more tense as the race weekend approaches, and opinions amongst the press are likely to diverge. I can’t predict who will go which way; only time will tell.

Since I’m writing about the F1 media, I wanted to take a moment to tip my virtual hat to those who bring the F1 news to us . We tend to get a lot of our F1 news from the broadcasting teams who host our TV coverage, but there are so many more journalists following the F1 circus around the world who bring us a range of insights in to our beloved sport. Some we will agree with, some we won’t but that’s the whole point of journalism for me – to get people talking.

As Ian Parkes tweeted, it is his duty as a journalist to see for himself what is happening in Bahrain, and after all these weeks of speculation it is great to see these professionals doing just that. Some of their colleagues are spending time in Dubai before going on to Bahrain later in the week. I’ll be interested to see if they do the same as their colleagues when they arrive in the country.

Likewise, some broadcasters and journalists aren’t travelling to Bahrain at all this week due to security concerns or out of conscience. I can understand these reasons completely as I have been very critical of the decision to proceed with the race, but as a complete news junkie who has been following events in Bahrain closely, I am also curious to know more about what is happening there this week.

Whatever happens, it is going to be a fascinating week and I am grateful to all those journalists who have travelled to Bahrain to share what they see with us.

Images from Bahrain

7 Apr

Apologies if I’m becoming a Bahrain bore, but as I’m sure you can tell, this is something I feel very strongly about.

I just read Tom Cary’s latest article in the Telegraph about Bahrain and was struck by the image at the top of the article of the graffiti. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/motorsport/formulaone/9191913/Pressure-mounts-on-FIA-to-make-final-decision-on-Bahrain-Grand-Prix.html

A great deal of what we’re hearing about Bahrain at the moment is words; is it safe to go or isn’t? I am a great believer in the power of images to tell a story. I am sharing with you here what I have found via google, and there are plenty more images besides these if you look online.

I was tempted to include some more imagery of how protesters are being treated, but I don’t know all of my audience and I don’t want to publish anything distressing on here. If you do, however, want to see for yourself what is going on, then I recommend looking at the images here: http://www.rightnow.io/breaking-news/bahrainkidabuse_bn_1332356703597.html

The F1 related images follow here. I haven’t added captions as I think they speak for themselves. Images were sourced from: http://www.rightnow.io; Project Aldawar and http://www.stuff.co.nz

Also here is a shot showing the scale of protests in Bahrain. There are clearly thousands of people taking to the streets. This image was posted on 24 March:

By contrast, here’s an official sign promoting the race (via http://www.idahostatesman.com) and some official images for the event (via Bahrain International Circuit):

So who thinks Bahrain is uniF1ed and ready to celebrate F1??????